I have an admission to make. I’ve never played a Sam & Max game. None of the original noughties classics, nor the recent remaster of the original Sam & Max: Hit the Road, nor the recent VR game Sam & Max: This Time it’s Virtual. It’s honestly a little bit shameful that I’ve never played such an iconic franchise, especially one penned by Steve Purcell, the legendary artist and voice actor who has had a finger in every animated product you’ve ever liked, with credits varying from the Lucasarts Adventure Games to Pixar’s Cars. So, as much as a remaster of the third game in the franchise is maybe not the best place to jump into Sam & Max, I was excited to sink my delicate human teeth into the game’s binary flesh when it showed up in my inbox.
Sam & Max, Beyond Space and Time is a point and click adventure from Skunkape games and is a remaster of the 2008 Telltale game of the same name, bringing with it a veritable Iceland frozen buffet range of improvements to the lighting, lip-syncing, cinematography and audio, or so I’m told. All in all these changes bring Sam & Max into the 2020s and make the game feel fresh and new, in a good way – like Chris Chibnall no longer writing Doctor Who. This means I’m more than happy to take the game out of its historical context and review it like it came out on the 8th December 2021. Which it did. But not for the first time. You know what I mean.
The first thing that will strike you about Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space is its sense of humour. It is unbelievably well written to hit you with jokes like raining body blows to the chest and abdomen. I would expect no less from Steve Purcell and the team at Telltale but experiencing it now, for the first time, feels like a breath of fresh air in a world saturated by the sort of humour that produces a laugh in acknowledgement that a joke way made rather than in any actual enjoyment of the joke, like Chris Chibnall writing Doctor Who. Almost every interaction in the game will give you a genuinely funny line of dark and crazy humour from Max’s psychopathic threats of random violence to Sam’s irrelevant segues.
If you’ve played a Sam & Max game before (or any point and click adventure), it’ll be no surprise to you that you’ll be solving problems by pointing and clicking. Standard stuff, Santa has sent a toy robot on steroids to attack your building so Sam and Max need to trick it into a logical paradox with their usual mental banter. Mental is the operative word in Sam & Max as you’re destined to fail if you set about anything in the game with any semblance of logic, like Chris Chibnall’s approach to writing Doctor Who. It’s not so much ‘I need to get past this vent that’s screwed in so I should find a screwdriver’ and more ‘I need to get down Santa’s chimney so I should find some elf tears to grow this shrub to give me access to the roof’. This means you need to interact with almost every item, character and background in the game before you can even think about solving the puzzle (or even working out what the puzzle is). On the one hand, this is great as it means you’re exposed to all the jokes – the most delightful things in the game. On the other hand, this can be quite frustrating when you need to do a bunch of busywork before you can make any progress in the game, almost to the extent that you start to hate Sam and Max’s witty comments, no matter how funny they are, because they’re standing between you and completing the game.
This all compounds to give you the interesting beast that is the game’s difficulty. Point and click adventures are always hard. Unless you just so happen to have exactly the same incredibly specific train of thought that the developers had on a random Tuesday in 2008, the logic you need to apply to solving a problem is as cryptic as the texts I get for the person whose phone number is a digit away from mine and who can’t write their phone number correctly on application forms. Sam & Max is no exception to this rule and the slightly random humour and chronology of Sam & Max makes this so much worse. Admittedly I’m a bit thick but I needed a walkthrough after a couple of chapters. One of the changes made in the remaster is an improvement to the contextual hints system so the game will detect when you’re stuck and give you a hand. Personally, I don’t think this is enough, I still had to go away and google why the hell this yellow snow isn’t helping me progress. You can change the hint frequency in the settings and it might just be the case that I didn’t have it dialled in well enough but it’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re planning on picking up the game.
So, Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space, should you pick it up? Is it good? Yes. Is it flawed? Also yes. I loved my time with Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space because it’s funny. It is so funny. It’s absolutely charming in its sense of humour and I was laughing out loud every couple of minutes at the masterful wit and timing on display. The humour on its own is enough to recommend the game and I’d honestly play any sort of game that was this funny. However, the frustration around the difficulty and the around-the-houses way you interact with the game is still there and does bring the strength of the recommendation down a bit. Can I guarantee you’ll simply have a wonderful Christmas time if you buy it? No – I can’t guarantee it. But, I can say in my first experience of the franchise that I found Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space to be a great way to spend a few laughter-filled hours.